On Jan. 15, with haphazard grace, The Mermen wandered off
on the beginning of a nine week slog across America. Guitarist Jim Thomas,
drummer Martyn Jones and bassist Allen Whitman, accompanied by soundman Roz
Jones (no relation to Martyn), guitar tech Mark Dickson and their roadie, known
only as Leslie, arranged themselves inside the white Ford Super Clubwagon 350
window van and, pulling the matching white trailer with the gear, drove all
night to San Diego. We've previously published Whitman's first five reports.
Today we present "Part 6."
On the road, Sun., Feb. 3, 4 AM. We are
crashing through a heavy squall, southbound Route 95, below Cape Canaveral.
Leslie is at the helm of the Pequod. Lightning flashes, high winds and heavy,
heavy rains. Semis blow by, doing over 80, throwing out huge walls of water. We
are cast about on the tossed sea lanes. Changing drivers at a rest stop I stand
under the clouds with arms out, letting the soft, warm water cover
Miami, FL, Sun., Feb. 3. Churchill's Hideaway. Eating homemade
shepherd's pie in the quiet house behind this local Little Haiti pub, run by
expatriates of the British Isles. Cockney and London accents, great beer and
enthusiastic people asking questions like: "Can I get you anything?" A friendly
oasis in the midst of a sub-tropical hell: Miami is a bleak city full of shut
faces and empty concrete hotels. Mile after mile of both line the ocean
beaches. Looking for a place to sleep this morning after our gale-driven trek
we were turned away for herds of poorly dressed conventioneers. We assumed it
was because we weren't wearing pastels. Weather stormy and humid while the rest
of the country is completely snowed/iced under. E-mail from Jenny M. in Dallas
describing snow and slush. More from Gary C. in Atlanta mentioning frozen roads
- 8 in. of snow in Philadelphia and 10 in New York. We make plans to hit a
Costco for tire chains.
The show is packed. Advance work by the Beast &
Baker radio show has created a buzz. Category 5, the local surf band, opens
with 50 minutes of tight, genre classics including: "Squad Car." During the set
change the tension mounts as a three-alarm fire guts a two-story house right
across the street. Smoke fills the club stinging our eyes and lungs. At the
close of a two hour set the Beast tells me that he's completely relaxed. "It
was everything I thought it would be, and more." The English security refuse to
let us go without leaving Leslie. We shake our heads. She sold tons of T-shirts
and CD's tonight. She stays with us.
Mon., Feb. 4. Up the coast to Stuart,
FL, to spend two nights with Jim's mom, Agnes, and her husband, Arthur.
Laundry, food, sleep, a baby-grand Baldwin in the living room, and, most
importantly, NO driving. Over dinner at a Cuban place, we get some dirt out of
Agnes. Jim reminded her of being chased down the street in New Jersey by Agnes,
in a Pontiac LeMans, for bringing a girl to the house when Mom wasn't home. We
remember when Agnes came to the Nightbreak in the Haight in San Francisco to
see The Mermen. She sat right in front and when she requested a song Jim
refused to play it. Now that's a real man. Back home we check out the full moon
over the links. The golf course abuts the groomed backyard in this carefully
planned resort. But the cold front has dropped the temperature to 39 degrees
Fahrenheit. My breath steams in frigid air at the retirement
Feb. 5th - Off at Jim's Mom's house. Up early for the
smorgasbord in the kitchen. From bananas to cereal to coffee cake to eggs,
bacon and sausage, to muffins and juice, etc.... I almost weep from the
civility of it and wonder if I'll ever live anywhere.
Jim makes dinner at
Mom's. Steak, roasted garlic, baked potato, sautéed onions, corn on the cob,
and a beautiful (she looked like Molly Ringwald - cuter) piano player to
perform for us on the baby-grand. Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmananoff and,
my favorite, Debussy. Once again the civility of the experience almost
overwhelms me. Or maybe the massage I had earlier in the day has taken a bottle
brush to the clogged neck of my chakra chain. We arrange ourselves around the
living room and sit quietly in soft light listening to Kelly play piano. I am
leafing through a book of Andrew Wyeth's paintings.
Gainesville, FL, Feb.
6. The Covered Dish. First thing this morning a FedEx driver hands over six
more pounds of Peet's coffee, flown in from San Francisco. We head north after
a long sigh and a short good-bye. Four hours to Gainesville gets us in after
dark. Pull up, reconnoiter, load in, sound check, eat, hang out, play, stand
around for a minute, pack up, load out, idiot check, drive away. Met some good
people in a pretty non-descript club. About 40 people in a room for 200. We
played well, and that's what matters. Drive all night to Athens, GA. The crew
does all the driving. I lay in the back and doze or read pop fiction
The end of the Florida chapter. Time to head north and East,
into the cold and wet.